If we tried to understand Jesus through the behaviour of the IRA we would end up in ‘cloud-cuckoo-land’. Yet while it’s harder to deny the causal-link between Muhammed and the behaviour of Islamists, the link needs to be nuanced by Christians otherwise we become part of the problem ourselves.
The further attack in the London Bridge and Borough Market area on Saturday night had the hallmarks of ISIS. The “low-tech” method (i.e. a vehicle and knives) and to strike in Ramadan were part of a recent open directive to its sympathisers. So ISIS either carried it out or inspired those who did.
The question asked by some Christians is: “Unlike Christianity, isn’t this behaviour typical of the founder of Islam?” While it’s true to say that the example and teaching of Jesus and Muhammed, the founders of Christianity and Islam are actually polar opposites, sadly the behaviour of their adherents are not.
Jesus’ example and teaching was to: ‘Put your sword away; he who lives by the sword will die by the sword’ (Mat.26:52), so anyone following the way of Christ – the Prince of Peace – cannot justify violence. Yet church history is littered with political violence by people identifying as “Christian” – e.g. between Catholic & Protestant in the Reformation and Spanish Inquisition; between Christians & Muslims in Lebanon, Nigeria and Kosovo and even between Christian tribes of different denominations in Nigeria and Rwanda. There is no causal link here with Jesus yet sinful human nature drives violence.
Muhammed’s example and teaching was the opposite to Jesus’. When cornered by his opponents in Mecca (his equivalent of Gethsemane), he effectively urged his followers to take up the sword and fight their way out and flee to Medina. Perhaps this is the point when the sword entered the ‘house of Islam’. It has never really left it because the Qur’an and Hadith (the Islamic texts) are too equivocal about the use of force against non-Muslims.
One respondent to my blog (Brendan) argues: ‘Muslims engage in violent jihad…with the endorsement of Muhammed’s teaching and example.’ My response to this is where the nuance needs to come in – not to be politically correct or theologically woolly but because the answer is “Yes and no”.
It’s true that Muhammed set a bad example involving allegations of personally beheading his captives; taking sex-slaves; ordering acts of violence against non-Muslims. It’s also true that Islam’s primary teaching text (the Qur’an) has around 200 violent verses, including the execution of ‘apostates’ (those who desert Islam) and the ‘cleansing’ of territory by annihilating non-Muslims.
Yet it’s not true that Muslims everywhere blindly follow their hard texts, any more than Christians do to enact the Old Testament instruction to stone people to death for blaspheming or insulting their parents (Lev.24:10-23). In reality Muslims are divided about their difficult texts, seeing them as edicts given in the early days of the faith but now ‘past their sell-by date’ for Muslims today.
To be fair, some hard Qur’anic texts do carry the proviso that violence is only permissible when Islamic interests are under threat. I remember a Pakistani missionary to Britain (a Saudi trained Wahabi conservative) telling me at the time of the 9/11 attacks in America, that the people who do such things have no Qur’anic right to behave like that on foreign soil. He assured me the rules are that if non-Muslims trespass into Muslim states and do harm that is what would give Muslims the right to defend themselves – quoting the Qur’an to support what he was saying.
The conundrum for Christians is that there is no simple “yes/no” answer to the question: “Is Islam solely responsible for atrocities such as Borough in London and the Arena in Manchester?” because sound-bites are not accurate enough and definitely are not in keeping with our role as the blessed who are ‘peacemakers’ (Mat.5:9). We are called to “be” good news as agents of reconciliation – firstly to God and then to one other (I speak as a black person). The role of a follower of Jesus is to be a ‘sign of the kingdom’ in society – i.e. oil on troubled waters not paraffin on angry flames.
The conundrum for Muslims is that there is a schizophrenic aspect in the Qur’anic passages, which emerged in Muhammed’s time in Mecca are more ‘spiritual’, internal and personal; while texts that emerged in his time in Medina are more ‘political’, public and intolerant. The question is “Which expression of Islam will be left standing in 50 years’ time – the ‘spiritual’ of Mecca or the ‘political’ of Medina – with its mediaeval worldview.
The current terrorist spree is allowing Muslims to step-up, as never before, to be more vocal than ever in a show of solidarity with the rest of British society. After three successful attacks in just three months, Theresa May and the Muslim Council of Britain are rightly saying: “Enough is enough!”
But after Thursday’s election, will the next government be prepared to step away from politically-correctness considerations to impose more robust measures on all “people of interest” regarding religiously-driven anti-social behaviour and act firmly earlier. The days of the mantra “don’t upset the Muslim community” are over. The Muslim community too are weary of these people.
As one exasperated Londoner said with a pointed finger: ‘Anyone who doesn’t like it here, Heathrow Airport is that way’!
It’s time to pray!
Steve Bell is the Director of Ministries at Interserve GB & Ireland. A mission leader, analyst, trainer and author, Steve is a recognised cross-cultural communicator with 35 years’ experience in 100 countries. Steve is author of Friendship First, Grace for Muslims and Gospel for Muslims and co-edited Between Naivety & Hostility. Steve is married to Julia, a senior teacher and they are “owned” by a mentally deranged Siamese cat called Izzy.